HORSE HIGH,
BULL STRONG,
PIG TIGHT.

a comedy for one actor 
in two acts

by

KENT STETSON

Commissioned by 
Rob MacLean, Artistic Director
Theatre Prince Edward Island 
 

Editor Bruce Barton's introduction to the post-production draft of HH, BS, PT
in the anthology of Maritime Canadian drama

Marigraph

  published by

Playwrights Canada Press.

(Excerpt from the play follows)

Intriguingly, while Prince Edward Island offers the “newest” playwright in this anthology in Melissa Mullen, it also provides one of the most senior and celebrated in Kent Stetson. Recipient of numerous honours, including the Governor General's Literary Award for English Drama and the Canadian Authors' Association's inaugural Carol Bolt Award for Excellence in Drama, Stetson’s presence nationally and internationally is firmly established.  Yet, with the enigmatically titled Horse High, Bull Strong, Pig Tight (which will not be explained in this introduction), the playwright offers what is perhaps the most specifically regional drama of this entire collection.

One of Stetson’s earliest plays is also one of his best known.  Warm Wind in China (1988) proved a landmark work, both personally for the dramatist and within Canadian theatre.  The first popular, full-length drama to address the plight of AIDS victims in this country, the play was both controversial and actively championed at home and abroad. 

As Stetson reported to Dawn Rae Downton, the work was intended as much, if not more, as a gesture of consolation as of protest: (quotation) Warm Wind in China was written as a memorial, a tribute to the courage of the gay community where not enough tribute, if any, has been made. 

“I wrote it as a balm,” [Stetson] says, spelling the word out, “not as a bomb so much.  It’s for those who have lost, who will lose.  Perhaps its for the curious, but it’s also for compassionate people.  Art can be a great comforter.” (quotation)

This motivation is reiterated within Stetson’s Playwright’s Note to
Warm Wind in China, in which he both laments the response of the general public to the emerging AIDS crisis and praises the actions of the gay community in the face of rejection and isolation:

“We were on our own. This time we knew who we were.  We rallied and, informed more by compassion than fear, we began again.  Stories of heroism emerged from behind viral ghetto walls. Warm Wind in China is dedicated to friends and lovers and those who seek to understand.”

Subsequent dramas have revealed the playwright as increasingly curious and versatile in terms of genre and dramatic form.  Among the many titles in his resume can be found a wide stylistic range, including romantic comedy, murder mystery, and popular film.  Stetson approaches all of these conventions with a winning combination of respect for tradition and a readiness to mix, match, and swap compositional strategies and tropes. 

Yet, throughout much of these works, the author also retains a common attraction for human-interest subject matter and, with increasing emphasis, a fascination with the potential for “heroism” among otherwise ordinary individuals.  His Governor General Award-winning play The Harps of God (1997) is explicitly “heroic” in
all its aspects—scope, structure, situation, characterization, language, and symbolism—and successfully elevates a cruel and potentially pathetic disaster to the heights of myth.  Based on an actual event of 1914 in which 132 seal hunters were stranded on the ice flows off Newfoundland for two full days and nights, The Harps of God effectively portrays the growing desperation of the stranded men as the conditions of their prolonged exile shift from dire to absurd. 

The
play is most striking in its verbal patterning that effectively combines raw, colourful Newfoundland dialects with a rarefied lyricism worthy of his classical aspirations.  A classically structured, three act tragedy for 20 performers, the drama enacts the playwright’s desire, as described in his Playwright’s Note in the published version of the text, to “talk big” and to escape the shrinking ambitions of a contemporary Canadian dramatic landscape of “[s]mall plays, more naturally aligned to popular television writing than the great classics of the world theatrical repertoire.”

It is perhaps ironic, therefore, that Horse High, Bull Strong, Pig Tight is subtitled “a play for one actor.”  Moving from the vast ice flows off Newfoundland into a barn on a rural Prince Edward Island farm, everything about Horse High is scaled down, more tightly focused, and distilled.  Whereas The Harps of God presents a sprawling, panoramic landscape, this later play explores decidedly interior terrain, in which the multiple characters (thirteen, in total) are the creations of one man’s tumultuous memories and heated imagination.  And whereas it is the threatened loss of a mass of humanity that provides the stakes in the sealing narrative, it is the impending loss of land, heritage, dignity, and history—both personal and cultural—that fuels the intense solo show included in this anthology. 

Developed through heritage funding from the province of PEI and in close collaboration with actor and fellow “Islander” Rob McLean (then Artistic Director of  Theatre Prince Edward Island), Horse High is a distinctly personal play
about “community” in its multiple, occasionally contradictory manifestations. As an elegy, it shrewdly combines the creativity of nostalgia with the 20/20 vision of critical retrospection.

Peter, an elderly farmer who has outlived his loved ones and who faces the utter loss of his land through the machinations of his own son, prepares for death.  His past, however, is not about to let him off that easy.  Stormed by spirits, memories, unfulfilled aspirations, and his own unresolved outrage, he enacts (at times literally) a wild ride through the circumstances of his life and, perhaps, demise. 

The rhythms of this journey are lyrical, elliptical, robust, and animated,
and both the text and its performance create a poetic dance of humour, empathy, and imagination.  A heartfelt and, at times, heartsick homage to both a disappearing way of life and an enduring commitment to tradition and cultural heritage, Horse High, Bull Strong, Pig Tight concludes this anthology with an impassioned and compassionate declaration of regional distinctiveness and vitality.





Excerpt

Scene 2: PETER CRAWLS OUT OF HIS BURLAP/TARP/FIR-BOUGH NEST, 
DRESSED FOR A DAY’S WORK IN COVERALLS AND A SOCK HAT. 
HE WASHES HIS FACE WITH DEW-DAMPENED  GRASS.

PETER:    Last night, at the Minah Bird in Charlottetown
        I got tight as a pig.
        Why?  You might well ask.
        Why the hell not, says I?
        The world’s goin’ to hell in a handbasket.
   
        We were grading potatoes, eh?
        Over at Ernie Mosher’s.
        Now there’s a farmer, boy oh boy.
        I’m five foot ten, eh?
        The cellar’s five foot four.
        Tear the back right outa ya.
        They let me sleep upstairs.
        Some prim that house.
        I ain’t complainin’.
        Ethel Mosher cranks out the grub
        Like Wrigleys cranks out chewin’ gum.       
        God!  The do-dads.
        Crocheted this, tatted that, knitted the other.
        Everything stuffed, fluffed
        Quilted and stitched, hooked and braided
        To within an inch of it’s life.
        You’d think Lucy Maude slept there.

        One mornin’ Ethel finds me in bed with me boots on...
        Fully dressed, eh?
        Coat, sock hat, mitts...
        Everything.
        There’s a puddle of somethin’ nasty in the corner,
        Soakin’ into her grandmother’s braided rug.

        I was fed up there anyway.
        Though I gotta say
        It was better than stumbling drunk through a February gale. 
        Sleeping in a snow bank. 
        Freezing to death.
        Dyin’ in a ditch.
        Like poor Garth.
        Like poor me. 
        Nearly.

        I’m forking the potatoes onto the low end of the grader.
        Great big potato fork, like a big short-handled shovel, only with tines.
        Ernie’s cranking the handle
        Movin’ the potatoes up on the wire belt,
        Two and a half inch mesh big enough for the seconds to fall through.
        They roll down along underneath into a basket, eh,
        I feed them to the cows and hogs after supper,
        Along with the culls.
        Some people plant the seconds whole.
        “Too lazy to cut proper sets.” says Ernie.
        Ernie’s Missus is pickin’ rocks and culls with the Old Fella.
        Ernie’s flippin’ the paddle at the bagger, sewin’ and pilin’ the bags.
        Loman McCauley on CFCY tells us the Roossians
        Put this little round thing called a  Sputnik up into outer space.
        Not that little.
        3,000 pounds.

        I’m drinkin’ me  Saturday night case of beers,
        In at the Minah Bird on Sydney Street,
        Tryin’ to make sense out ‘a one ‘a them Roossian sailors
        Off the potato boat from Vladovlostock
        Tied up there at the railway wharf in Charlottetown.
        In comes this loud mouthed son of a who-oo  cut your hair last
        And starts going on about how he seen
        A space ship full of Roossian Martians.
        Roossian Martians.
        There was no Martians in the Spootnik, Roossian or otherwise.
        Not accordin’ to Loman.

        Anyways, I knew what’s what, eh?
        I tell him about the 3,000 pound Spootnik
        Floatin’ around up there.       
        He calls me a friggin’ liar.
        “Nothin that heavy could stay up in the air,” says he.
        “Not without no wings.”

        I call him a Charlottetown fool.
        He calls me a stunned country arse-hole.
        And we go at it.
        Everybody’s cheerin’ us on,
        Even these Charlottetown police fellas, eh?
        And them two RCMP lads that used t’a get drunk and waltz together.
        I seen some pretty queer sights at The Minah Bird.
        The Minah Bird’s some popular with the police
        Even though they have to shut her down every now and then
        ‘Cause it’s a bootlegger, eh?

        I’m strong as a bull, but slow.
        He’s fast and dirty — a wiry little town fella,
        Learned to fight on Douglas Street, eh?
        Them Irish Catholics are an awful bunch with the boots.
        They get you down on the ground at boot level
        You can say farewell to your teeth.
        I lost these two that night.

        I hitch-hiked a ride home with the queer priest from Souris.
        He was a regular at the Minah and a bugger to drink.
        He was awful fond of them Roossian sailors.
        And one or two of them took a fancy to His Holiness,
        Which is what I took to callin’ him.
        The stuff that went on at the Minah’d curl your hair.
        I was a terrible lad for the ladies, myself,
        Though some of the ‘girls’ at the Minah’d seen better days.

        We come around the bend in Dunstaffnage —
        Mind you every body’s  around the bend in Dunstaffnage,
        Just ask Beth MacIssac.
        She cut up their Christmas tree for spite
        After their school concert —
        In our Hall, which we lent them every year —
        Cut up their tree with a vengeance
        So we couldn’t use it for our concert.
       
        And them buggers — the big lads —
        The kind ‘a fellas that gets kicked outa grade two for not shavin’...
        Big, stunned, hulkin’ lads strong as oxes and just as smart,
        Used to pelt us with fudge from the back of the hall
        When we was doin’ our recitations.
        Little kids six and seven,
        Doin’ the Merry Christmas letters, eh?

        Poor Wendell Acorn was at the end Merry, so he had ‘Y’.
        “ ‘Y’ is for the Yuletide, the best time of the year,”
        Is what he was supposed to say.       
        “Wha... wha... why...”
        Poor Wendell stuttered something wicked, eh...
        “Wha... wha... why...”
        One of them Thompson lads
        Or was it a MacCallum —
        Let go with a huge rock ‘a Margie Dunning’s brown sugar fudge,
        Clipped poor Wendell right on the side of the head.
        That got him started.
        “Wha... wha... WHY... is the mule tied, the best time of the year?”
        The mule tide!  Honest to God!
        The place near come down with the laughter.
        Poor Wendell never knew what hit him.
        And he never stuttered on word from that night forward.
        Mind you, he become a little hard of hearin’.
        But it was all in good fun.

        The Women’s Institute started makin’ the Divinity fudge after that.
        Never hurt as bad as the brown sugar stuff.
        Soft, eh?
        Made a terrible splat, though.
        And stuck like two-day old chewin’ gum.
        They started cuttin’ the corners outa the little paper bags, eh?
        So the big lads at the back couldn’t explode them
        In the middle of the little kids solos.
        But that’s another story.
       
        Any way, we come around the bend in Dunstaffnage
        And there’s this great big Dunstaffnage pig —
        A dandy big porker —
        Lyin’ right in the middle of the road.
        We screech to a stop and Mr. Pig jumps to his trotters,
        Trots a few paces down this little lane,
        Turns and looks back, like a dog that wants you to follow.
        So that’s what we done.

        We come to this little shack.
        Inside, buddy’s drunk.
        Some queer old bachelor livin’ alone,
        Just him and his pig —
        A sow, it turns out, not a boar.
        There was nothin’ queer about buddy!

        The little pot bellied stove is glowin’ red.
        Buddie’s drunk asleep,
        And the heat man dear would stun a hippo.
        The places smells sour.
        His socks and underwear —
        He wore the combinations, pure wool, eh, —
        Was smokin’ — not steamin’.
        They was smokin’!
        The pig ‘s squealin’, agitated no end.
        We drag Buddy out, lay him on the lane naked as a jay bird,
        Just as the tar paper ignites.
        Up she goes —
        Poof!
        In a shower of smoke and flame,
        Sparks trailin’ up past the Northern lights,
        Flickerin’ out  among the stars.

        Yessir!
        Down comes your dog house,
        And forty feet of your barn!

        The pig starts rootin’ at Buddy, eh,
        And flips him, right over onto his back.
        Buddy sits up,
        Looks at us, looks at his hog
        Takes in what’s goin’ on and says,
        “Oh, me house.  Me house.  Me poor little house.”
        The pig comes over and lies down beside him.
        Honest to God.
        If you don’t believe me, ask the queer Priest from Souris.
        That pig lay right down beside her buddy.

        God. 
        Like poor Jesse Compton who was soft in the head.
        Him and his old brother Albert lived alone on the farm, eh?
        One day a gust of wind caught the big barn door
        And poor old Albert got knocked unconscious.
        Out like a light.
        Like I say, poor Jesse never had any kind of a clue.
        He didn’t know what to do.
        So... he just lay down along side ‘a Albert
        His arm under Albert’s head
        Talkin’ to him.
        And singin’.
        (Sings) ‘You are my sunshine,
        My only sunshine...’
        Waitin’ for Albert to wake up.
        Or someone to come along.
       
        Albert never did wake up.
        And no one come along.

        My, my, my.

        I stopped by Buddy’s a few weeks later.
        He’d built himself a brand new tar paper shack...
        The neighbors took up a collection, eh?
        Sixty-five dollars.
        And there on this brand new second-hand couch
        Lay this same great big pig.
        Buddy asks me to sit down
        So I slap the hog to get up and make room
        And Buddy says,
        “Don’t slap Iris.  If you want her to move, just ask her.”
        Well, sir.
        I did.
        And she did!

        Me and Iris and Buddy became the best of friends.
        I lived there the rest of the winter.
        They say ‘drunk as a pig,’ eh?
        But Iris could hold her liquor better than either one of us.
        They was both drunk as pigs that night she went out
        And lay down on the road.
        The night Iris the tight pig lay down on the road
        Willin’ to give her all
        To save her buddy Buddy’s life.
        Greater love hath no pig, what?       

        Ha!
        Yessir!
        Horse high, bull strong, pig tight!
        Dad used t’a say that when we were kids.
        I got no idea what on God’s green earth it means.
        Somehow or other it makes me feel good.
        Yeah. Yeah.

        Oh my, my, my.
        If I ever see him again,
        In heaven or someplace,
        I’ll have to remember to ask him.

        I near had a heart attack one mornin’.
        I was goin’ across this field up west where I was workin’       
        Right after a snow storm, eh?
        The sun was turnin’ warm again...
        The sky was blue as it gets.
        I stopped to take it all in.
        I hear some fella breathin’, and I know it’s me.
        I hear this heart beatin’, and I know it’s mine.       
        I hear this low murmur somewhere close—
        Sounded like the baby Moses done,
        When he was left in the bulrushes.
        Cooin’ and peepin’.
        Maybe. 
        Who knows?

        The snow had a little thin crust, eh?
        The sun melting it,
        The cold from below makin’ it ice.
        I heard this peckin’.
        Then cooin’ and peepin’.
        Then nothin.
        Then...

        Up outa the snow,
        Flyin’ straight up
        Like a dozen rockets
        Shoots a flock a’ partridges!
        Sheets of ice thin as paper,
        And powdery flakes of snow catch the light of the sun.
        A million diamonds fall back to the snow.
        Man dear what a sight!

        Somethin’ spooks the partridges off of their perches in the night, eh?
        Weasels or somethin’.
        They light out ‘a their spruce trees,
        Fly blind, way out into the storm, and dive head first into the snow.
        And that’s where they spend the night.
        Safe and sound, out a’ harms way.

        How do they learn such a thing in the first place?
        Mother nature is a wonderful creature.           
       
        A couple ‘a weeks later,
        There was another tail twister.
        There was snow up to the ‘phone wires that mornin’.
        People was shovellin’ the snow off of the barn roofs,
        For fear they might cave in.

        Harry goes out for the Guardian
        And hears somethin’ under the snow.
        It was me.
        I was cooin’ and peepin’.
        Like Moses in the bulrushes.
        Like a partridge, in me snow white egg.

        The queer priest from Souris never showed up that night
        I was walkin’ out to see Buddy and Iris.
        I guess I got lost in the storm.
        I guess I thought I was a partridge.
        I guess I must ‘a flew headfirst
        Right into the ditch.
        Chased by me own friggin’ weasel.

        Red ‘Moon’ Piggot.
        Hog of a man.
        “I don’t care if she is your mother,
        You crazy young son of a bitch.
        Get your arse off of my farm —
        My farm —
        Before I put the boots to you again.”

        Lucky thing Harry was a biologist, eh?
        He new about the partridges.
       
        I’m laying on the daybed by the stove.
        Thawin’ out.
        Harry’s drinkin’ tea, readin’ the Guardian.
        Not sayin’ a word.
        Harry was a real gentleman.
        I tried to stand up.
        “I gotta get goin,” says I.

HARRY:    Not today you won’t.
        And most likely not this week.
        You stand on those feet,
        You’ll be known hence forth as the toeless wonder.

PETER:    I can’t lie around here for a week...

HARRY:    I presumed you can’t pay for a stay in hospital
        I and asked my new secretary, Lilly McCauley
        To tend to you.
        She agreed.
        We’ll get you upstairs,
        And there you’ll stay
        ‘Til you’re fit to walk.

PETER:    You know those times your mouth flies open and you ask a question
        Even though you know the answer?
        “Who’s Lilly McCauley, when she’s home?”  Says I, bein’ smart.   
        I already knew, eh?
        Seen her last week when I come to the back door beggin’ grub.
        Beggin’ grub at the back door of me own house.
        God help me.
        “Give us somethin’ to eat missus.”
        And she did.   

HARRY:    Lilly’s just home from Toronto.
        She’s the new secretary in the biology department.

PETER:    ‘Lilly McCauley is to be my wife,
        Catholic or not!’ says I, automatic.

HARRY:    I wouldn’t know about that.

    PETER REMOVES HIS COVERALL AND SOCK HAT.  HE SEATS HIMSELF BACK IN THE LAWN CHAIR.

PETER:    (In the present, age 79)
        Dr. Harry saved my life.

        But Lilly-Belle...
        You saved my soul.

        I miss you somethin’ wicked.   

        Cold. 
        (Shivers) Perishin’ cold.
        Why ain’t I dead yet?

        I’m tough as a boiled owl.
        That’s why.
        I should took a’ hold of the fool’s twenty two and...

        No.
        I’d rather go quiet and dignified.
        Besides, I’ll never see my Lilly if I take my own...
        Do myself in.

        Cold.
        Perishin’ cold.
        (Shudder, intense, protracted) It’s a bugger.
        It’d take your breath.
       
        If I close my eyes right tight...
        I can see you.       

        Lilly Belle?           
        If I let go, will you catch me?
        Will you catch me on the other side?


    END ACT ONE


    ACT TWO

Scene 1: PETER, IN BED.

PETER:    “Missus!
        There’s a terrible stench
        Comin’ out from under these blankets.”

LILLY:    I’m not your ‘missus.’

PETER:    Not yet your not, says I to myself.
        God she was beautiful.
        Eight years later, she was Mrs Peter Stewart,
        But that’s another story.
       
LILLY:    I smelled worse.
        The doctor says you’ll lose the small toe on your right foot,
        The nails on both your big toes.

PETER:    Jasus.

LILLY:    Not bad for a drunken fool passed out  in a ditch,
        Coldest night so far, winter of 1958.
        What in the name of God were you thinking?

PETER:    I wasn’t thinkin’.
        That’s the point.
       
LILLY:    You’re not a bad lookin’ fella.
        How come you’re not married at your age?

PETER:    Lilly was a scratchy little woman.       
        She never lit anywhere for more than a second.
        Always diggin’ and wipin’ and scrubbin’
        Bakin’ and picklin’ and goin’ on.
        God! that woman could work.               
        She’d have her row planted and be halfway down yours
        Before you’d cut a dozen sets.
        She was one of those women who picked potatoes standing up,
        Bent over at an angle that’d break a normal back.
        Of course she was built pretty low to the ground.       
        “She’s small, but she’s wound tight.”
        That’s what Dr. Harry used to say.       
        And laugh! God! 
        The laugh on her would get everybody goin’.
        She hated smut, though.
        And had no patience with foolishness.

LILLY:    I hate liquor worse than I hate smut.
        Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
        What makes a fella like you,
        From a good Island family,
        A man well set up by God and nature
        Turn into a drunk?

PETER:    Hold your horses there Missus.
        I may throw a case or two into me now and then.
        But I’m no drunk.

LILLY:    You ain’t losin’ them toes to sobriety.

PETER:    She went at me like that for days.
        I would ‘a run like hell
        If I could ‘a.
        “Lilly Belle. 
        Will you shut your mouth if I marry you?”

LILLY:    Quit calling me Lilly Belle.
        You make me sound like one ‘a Soggy Reid’s
        Ten cent kewpie dolls.

PETER:    Where’s the poor fella now?

LILLY:    Who?  Soggy?

PETER:    No.  I know where Soggy’s to!
        Off at some exhibition in Florida with his mid-way,
        Where he’s supposed to be, in the dead of winter.
        Your husband.

LILLY:    Doug? Last I seen him,
        He was beggin’ quarters on Yonge Street.

PETER:    And you run home to the Island,
        Tail between your legs.       

LILLY:    You smug friggin’ Calvinists!
        There’s something you need to know,
        Mr. High and Mighty Peter Stewart.       
        For once in your God forsaken life,
        Just shut your yap and listen.

PETER:    This queer look come over Lilly.
        She sat on my bed.
        I’m listenin’.

LILLY:    When you’re born on the Island,
        The second they cut your umbilical,
        Another cord sprouts out ‘a your navel.
        Shoots right out and plants itself in the soil
        Takes root in the bedrock.
        You’re attached to P.E.I. forever.
       
PETER:    I took it in and said to myself
        God help me.
        The woman’s crazy as a bag of hammers.
        That’s a pretty queer notion,
        If you ask me.

LILLY:    I’m not askin’ I’m tellin’ you.
        It’s made outa’... well, ah... light.
        Golden-red light.
        It’s right flexible, eh?  Tough. Right elastic.
        You can go pretty much anywhere on the earth
        And it’s still there,
        Sprouting outa’ yer belly
        Attached to the red rocks of home.
        Anywhere but Toronto.
        Starts to fray the minute you get off the bus in Toronto.
        Soon your floatin’ away like a kid’s balloon at the exhibition.   

PETER:    Lilly took my hand,
        Said...

LILLY:    Sometimes life gives you a terrible clip
        On the side of the head
        That sends you reelin’.
        The gold cord snaps.
        Worst thing that can happen to an Islander.
        I think that’s what happened to you, Peter.
        I think some mean bugger snipped your cord.
        But do you know, it grows back if you let it.
        It does.
        Mine did.
       
PETER:    Lilly touched my neck.

LILLY:    What happened to your throat?

PETER:    My cord got clipped in France.
        Shrapnel.       
        Started growin’ back, like you said,
        Soon as I got home to the Island.
        Then Red Moon Piggot clipped it for good, altogether.
        Lilly Belle?  I mean...  Lilly..?
        Will you—?    
       
LILLY:    No, Peter.
        I promised my mother I’d die
        Before I’d marry another Protestant.

PETER:    I’ll turn Catholic.

LILLY:    I’m still a married woman.
        Everyone... needs somebody.
        Peter.
        I’m lonely.
        So are you.
        We’re that lonesome, the two of us.
        We’re mad as a pair of waltzing mice.
        I’ll be the next best thing to your wife.
        I’ll be your... companion.

PETER:    “My wife, without getting married?” says I.
       
LILLY:    Call it what you like.
        The night you went delirious
        I lifted the blankets and had a good long look at your hardware.            

PETER:    Jasus, woman!       

LILLY:    I never touched ye!
        You appear satisfactory.
        I suppose everything’s in workin’ order?

PETER:    Is that how women act up there in Toronto?
              
LILLY:    There’s two things I like in bed:
        One is natural ability;
        The other is enthusiasm.
        There’s nothin’ quicker than liquor to deflate a man’s... pride.
        I am not takin’ up with another dud.       
        I spoke to Harry.
        He needs someone to run things here,
        House, barn and field as they say.       
        He’s asked us to stay on.
        I agreed on your behalf.   
        We’ll work fifty fifty.

PETER:    That’s decent of ye —

LILLY:    Someday perhaps I will be your wife.
        If that mean son of a gun
        Freezes to death on Yonge street,
        Which I hope —  No. 
        That’s too mean.       
        I’ll be with you in every way a woman can be with a man.
        But I won’t marry a protestant.
        And I won’t shut up.

PETER:    Nor did she.
        Well sir!
        I told Lilly
        That I’d take on her and the farm
        Providin’ we got married if children come.
        I’d father no bastards.
        Catholic or no,
        She’d either have to prevent gettin’...
        Ah... you know... in the family way.
        Or she’d have to get a divorce.
        Terrible choice for a Catholic.

        She was good as her word, eh —
        For eight years.

        ‘Till the fool was born.

        I told her something else,
        Somethin’ I never told anyone
        Except Dad one frosty mornin’ years ago.

        Lilly. All I want is to be a good farmer.
        And what’s that, says she?

        Well, I guess I never thought about it ‘till then.
        So I thought of Dad,
        Puffed up me chest, opened me mouth.
        This is what come out.

        A good farmer is a big, solid robust chunk of a man.
        He’s intelligent, resourceful and he’s not afraid of hard work.
        He thrives on it.
        He seems awful quiet,
        But when you get to know him
        You see he guards his character —
        Not like somethin’ bought or sold;
        Like somethin’ precious
        That come to him, from God,
        The soil below, and his father before him.   

        Mother Nature,
        Queen of the Earth,
        Works hand in glove
        With God the King of Heaven
        To keep him humble.       
        The fruitfulness of his land,
        The strength of his animals;
        The health of his wife, his children, himself, his community —
        All his labor, all his hope,
        The ruined crops, the bins over flowin’,
        Everything that makes him a good farmer
        Is tied to Mother Nature’s bounty,
        And the whims of Almighty God.

        “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, eh?
        The evidence of things not seen.”       
       
        I never seen it fail.
        A good farmer makes a dandy boss.
        I worked for farmers whose land was always in top form,
        Every body for miles cryin’ drought or flood
        Blight or bugs or this or that.
        You’d walk onto a good farm in bad times
        And honest to God...
        The feelin’ of the place.
        I’d say heaven on earth.

        The first thing you notice is the fences.
        Barbed wire singin’ tight,
        Stapled to good solid fir posts, striped and painted.
        Limed, in the old days.

        Ether side of the lane,
        If the house and barns are set back a ways,
        There’ll be a pair of fields the sight of which
        Will do your heart good.

        Over there’s a stand of timothy,
        A day or two before comin’ into head.       
        Today’s the day he’ll cut her.       
        He’ll have her down and tedded,
        Raked, coiled, pitched and stowed within’ two days.

        And there’s twelve acres of seed Sebagos,
        Just comin’ into bloom.       
        Not a hint of mosaic, black leg, leaf roll —
        Rogued to perfection.
        Not a lamb’s quarter
        Nor a show of mustard to be seen.
        No sir.

        Behind the house is a stand of clover.
        The smell waftin’ in the bedroom window
        First thing on a July mornin’,
        Man dear,
        You wake up whistlin’!

        The pond by the road
        Is quackin’ full of big fat Muscovy ducks.
        White geese are flappin’ and honkin’
        And goin’ on somethin’ wicket.

        The pasture‘s some lush, eh?
        The cows goin’ at it like there’s no tomorrow...
        Bags full to burstin’,
        Teats stickin’ straight out sideways,
        Waitin’ for ya at the gate to the barn,
        Bawlin’ for relief,
        They’re that full of milk.

        Calves buntin’ and suckin’
        Jumpin’ and runnin’,
        ‘Till of a sudden
        Their hind quarters hunkers down,
        Their front legs fold’s under...

        Out on the pasture,       
        There’s not a calf awake or standin’.

        The cows soon follow.
        Down they go.
        Up come their cuds.

        And down comes the rain.

        The soil sucks up moisture like a sponge.
        You can hear it seepin’ in.

        It pours, boys.       
        Grass, leaves, fruits and berries drip water.
        Everything’s washed clean.
        Just...  shinin’ clean.
               
        Round up the Missus and the youngsters,
        Hop in the car and go for a drive!
        Out through Meadow Bank and New Dominion.
        Out around Rocky Point, eh?
                       
        Man dear.       
        The Island sky is never so blue,
        Her clouds as white and noble;
        The air is never as sweet and clean;   
        Holsteins never so black and white
        Grazin’ grass that’s never greener;
        The soil ‘s never so red...
        The Island herself is never as beautiful
        As on a June evenin’       
        After a good rain.

        The settin’ sun pours out
        Through scarlet clouds
        Purple clouds
        Clouds as high as mountains
        Trimmed with shimmerin’ gold...

        My my my.

        Poor Harry, despite bein’ a professor and all,
        Was useless as tits on a bull when it come to farmin’.
        But he’d come out with these sayin’s
        That’d stop you in your tracks.
        “The wind is God’s breath,”
        Says he one blowy June day.
        “The sun is God’s promise.
        The rain is God’s kindness.
        A well-plowed red Island field
        May well be the very face of God.”

        Imagine.
       
        Harry wanted to farm the old way.
        “Then get yourself an old farmer,” says I.
        He never missed a beat.
        “I’d say I just did that very thing.”

        He was a sharp bugger, that Harry.
        God we had some laughs.       
        I was near forty the year Lilly and I took on Harry’s farm.
        Dad’s  farm.
        My farm. 
        Lilly-Belle was twenty seven.
        We were a queer bunch, when I think on it.
        There’s no fool like an old fool.

        Gone were the days of Spootniks and Roossians
        Gone were the days of drunken slavery.
        Gone were the days of near freezin’ to death in the ditch.   

        Lilly made the house and barns
        The lawns and that a real show place.
        Won the Rural Beauty-fication twice.
        We got on somethin’ dandy.        
        We done excellent.
        What with Harry’s salary,
        With hard work, and the grace of God and Nature,
        Things was bloomin’ every where a fella turned.
        I can’t remember bein’ happier.

        Then come February 16, 1966.
        Two things happened that same day.
        One good, one bad.

        Word come form the welfare in town
        That Lilly’s drunk husband Doug was found
        Froze to the sidewalk in Toronto.
        That was the good news.
        She was six months along and I was gettin’ desperate.

        She waltzed out to the barn,
        Told me to change me shirt,
        And slick back my hair.
        We went to Souris that afternoon —
        I’d been takin’ ‘How to be a Catholic’ lessons, just in case, eh.
        We got married by His Holiness,
        The queer priest from Souris,   
        The priest that Iris the pig flagged down
        One frosty night in Dunstaffnage.
        But that’s another story.